June 3, 2008 / 2:31 PM / 11 years ago

French "virginity lie" couple raps ruling appeal

PARIS (Reuters) - Lawyers for a Muslim couple whose marriage was annulled over her lie about being a virgin rapped the French government on Tuesday for deciding to appeal the ruling widely denounced as an insult to women’s equality.

Both said their clients accepted the ruling and criticized the emotional debate that has raged in France since it was reported last week. A Lille court agreed to end the union because the husband said the marriage was based on a lie.

Their statements added further confusion to a debate struggling to reconcile a vague law, changing morals and concerns about religious demands. Justice Minister Rachida Dati defended the ruling last Friday but ordered an appeal on Monday.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the case could go to France’s highest appeals court, while Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot argued it was for parliament to debate and legislate.

The lawyer for the wife said she was furious and did not want a new trial. “She told me: I refuse this. I don’t agree with this appeal,” Charles-Edouard Mauger told Europe 1 radio.

“I have to get on with my life,” he quoted her as saying. “I don’t know who decided that they would think for me. I haven’t asked for anything. It feels like I’m hallucinating.”

The lawyer for the husband, who sought the annulment after discovering his wife was not the virgin she had claimed to be, expressed his surprise that the case would be reopened.

“First the Justice Ministry said the ruling conformed to the law, now it’s appealing it,” Xavier Labbee told RMC radio. “It’s a contradiction, probably due to the uproar in the media.”

“FATWA AGAINST WOMEN”

The ruling came in for ferocious criticism over the weekend. Fadela Amara, state secretary for urban affairs, called it “a real fatwa against women’s liberation” and said it seemed more like “a ruling handed down in Kandahar.”

Dati at first defended the ruling as protecting the woman but changed her mind and justified the appeal by saying the case “concerns all citizens of our country, especially women.”

Fillon said France could not let the ruling make virginity a “key element in consent to marry.” If the appeal failed, he said, the government would take it to the highest appeals court “so this ruling does not create a precedent for all judges.”

Concern about traditional Muslim views creeping into French jurisprudence echoed through the debate, but the lawyers insisted religion had no part in the ruling based on a lie about what the husband saw as an “essential quality” in a bride.

Bachelot said virginity may have been an “essential quality” for a marriage “in the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th.” But a court could not decide if that applied today.

“Morals have changed, and that’s fine,” she said. “So I want parliament to pass a law to define these characteristics.”

This case was apparently the first to cite virginity as an “essential quality” for a marriage. Other annulment cases have cited lies about a previous divorce or criminal record.

Critics of the ruling say these are acceptable criteria but a woman’s sex life must remain strictly private. Lawyers said drawing that distinction in a law could be difficult because male impotence is accepted as a reason to annul a marriage.

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